An Uber driver allegedly kidnapped a 15-year-old New York girl on her way home from a Sweet 16 party and planned to sexually assault her at his Brooklyn home, prosecutors said.
Sean Williams, 32, has been charged with two felony kidnapping charges and two misdemeanors and could face up to 25 years in prison if found guilty, the Nassau County district attorney's office said in a news release last week.
Williams pleaded not guilty to the charges and remains free while awaiting trial.
"The girl was terrorized by the defendant’s alleged behavior and bravely took action to contact police and free herself,'' Nassau County District Attorney Madeline Singas said in a statement.
Williams picked up the girl at 11:15 p.m. on July 12 from a Sweet 16 party in Long Island. He then cancelled the route to her home in Merrick and attempted to convince her to go drinking with him, prosecutors said.
The girl refused, telling him she was only 15 and wanted to be taken home. She eventually convinced him that she had to use the bathroom and when he pulled over in Brooklyn, she escaped into a McDonald's and called the police, prosecutors said.
Authorities said Williams wanted to bring the teen to his home in Brooklyn to sexually assault her.
"What has been reported is deeply alarming and the driver’s access to the app has been removed,'' an Uber spokesperson told NBC News. "We stand ready to cooperate with law enforcement."
Uber also noted as a reminder that all of its account holders must be at least 18 years old.
Williams' attorney, Steven Gaitman, disputed the allegations, telling NBC News that "the alleged victim had her cell phone on her person the entire car ride and at the first opportunity after she made the request to use a bathroom, Mr. Williams obliged."
The alleged incident marks the latest unsettling experience involving ride-sharing apps. Earlier this month, seven women filed lawsuits against Uber competitor Lyft, claiming drivers sexually assaulted them.
Two women spoke on TODAY earlier this month about their frightening encounters with Lyft drivers, saying the company hadn't taken their complaints of sexual harassment by drivers seriously.
"We have made it a priority to continually invest in features that put riders in control of their experience,'' Lyft told NBC News in a statement. "We also bolstered our monitoring of active drivers on the platform implementing continuous criminal monitoring and enhanced identity verification."
Uber unveiled new safety measures in April, just over two weeks after the death of University of South Carolina student Samantha Josephson, 21, who was last seen on March 29 getting into a car she thought was her Uber ride.
Her body was later found in a wooded area 65 miles away. The car's driver, Nathaniel David Rowland, 24, faces kidnapping and murder charges.
Her death prompted lawmakers at the state and federal level to introduce legislation requiring more identification on ride-sharing cars.
The changes to the Uber app following Josephson's death included prominently displaying in-app safety notifications, push alerts for riders to check the license plate, make and model of the vehicle, and the name and picture of the driver to confirm it's the correct person picking them up.
Uber also has a list of safety tips for anyone using the service, including the following:
- Request a ride inside and wait as long as you can before going outside to get into your ride.
- Check the license plate, make and model of the car and the driver's picture that appear in the app.
- Ask the driver to confirm your name before getting the car by asking, "Who are you here to pick up?"
- Sit in the back seat so you can easily exit either side and have space between you and the driver.
- Share your trip status with a friend or family member.
- Trust your instincts, and if you feel you are in any danger, call 911 by using the emergency button located in the app, which also can provide your real-time location and trip details to share with the dispatcher.